REVIEW: THE DØ – BOTH WAYS OPEN JAWS (2011)
A good musician once told me he was tiring of hearing new bands try too hard to play something new-sounding and not hard enough to play something that sounded like music. Though that may be a narrow and conservative opinion, I have found this claim often true and I’m glad to say it isn’t the case with The Dø. The follow-up to their debut A Mouthful has the band dive further into their freak-pop explorations, still striving to produce better music, as accessible and inaccessible as the results may be.
Both parts that make up The Dø have backgrounds in classical music. French Dan Levy found his academic stomping grounds at home while Franco-Finnish Olivia Merilhati studied the field in Helsinki. What brings the both together is their mutual love and talent for scoring films as well as their respective dabblings in rock, jazz and electronica. Their sustainable collaboration has carried itself over to a promising sophomore album Both Ways Open Jaws, a sample lyric, I noted, from their first single “Slippery Slope”.
There are commonalities that bind Both Ways Open Jaws to A Mouthful, but none of them make the record redundant or boring. The first obvious element is sonic continuity, not only is it recurring but now it is even more noticeable. Most of the songs are masterpieces, albeit not always so easy on the ears. But it would have been nice to have even a remote clue as to what ties together all these very different songs – and not just in tempo or genre or lyrics. I’m talking about how listening to this album leaves you jumping from one headspace to another polarizing one with every song. “Slippery Slope” and “B.W.O.J.” sound like they belong on a cleaner version of an early M.I.A. or tUnE-yArDs album. “Too Insistent” or “Was It a Dream” would be heard on the soundtrack of your favorite romcom. Finally “Gonna Be Sick” and “Quake, Mountain, Quake” don’t sound like anything I can stick an easy reference to – certainly not anything coming out of the mainstream French music scene.
This predicament reminded me of many a job interview where you’re asked what you think thought your worst flaw is and how it will affect your performance. Here The Dø’s flaws are clear: they’re thinking too big, they’re far too creative, they’re a scattered bunch. As a result, the performance is breathtaking. You’re just as into the radio-friendly songs as you are into less accessible ones because our heroes have put in just as much complexity and effort into each song’s completion. It was lovely to see a great band live up to the sophomore album curse. It was equally impressive to see how far they let their respective imaginations go with the added advantage of a bigger budget without overindulging or smoothing out the kinks that make up the band’s character.
Finally, at the heart of it all is Olivia Merilhati’s voice: her range and subtle variations in tone bring the songs to each of their own places, from a monotonous dance-hall vibe to a mournful lark’s song. If anything, I would have preferred one less heartbreak song and more about a chaotic state of mind. Still, I still haven’t grown tired of this record. Though I find it crazy to have it be this scattered, that very craziness has become comforting.